Creative agencies must earn the trust of CEOs

Interview with Rimantas Stanevicius, CD of MILK, Lithuania.

Rimantas Stanevicius  

MILK has been the Baltic agency of the year in 2017, 2016 and 2015.

What are the hottest trends in Lithuanian advertising market in June 2018?

The global changes affect us as well, we reflect them in our own way. Everybody is saying that the business consultants are coming and taking away the ad agency business and we have to transform into something, but nobody knows into what. So everybody is trying new tricks to change the game.

The clients use 6-7 agencies at the same time, the fragmentation is huge. You may have big clients in your portfolio, but you only service a really small portion of their business. If you look at our client list, we should be huge, but we aren`t because the clients are dividing the job among different agencies.

Media agencies give away free creative advice so that they can sell their media service. It`s not maybe high-quality creative, but nobody cares, because it`s free.

PR and Media agencies have more intimate contact with the CEOs of clients, creative agencies are dealing more with the marketing departments.

How do you cope with that situation?

The first thought is that maybe creative agencies should try to quantify their work, like the PR or media agencies do, because they have all the numbers and they are taken more seriously and they get the big budgets.

For the creative agencies, the core competency is storytelling and creativity, something that no one else does. We are thinking of the ways how to sell that know-how to other (media, digital, PR, etc) agencies as well.

We are also the only agency in the Baltics specializing in telecom business. We have 3 different telecom clients at the same time in different markets, including Telia in Estonia. So specialization is also one solution.

Some creative agencies build their own in-house specialized teams that focus on social media, Adwords, AI and other new cool things. Have you tried that?

There are three things you can do in order to gain expertise in new areas: learn, hire or partner. We`ve tried everything, but it seems that maybe the partnering works the best.

If you think about digital agencies then they have all the technology, but they don`t know how to do storytelling. We think we can offer storytelling expertise to the digital agencies.

When you started working with Telia Estonia, it was a groundbreaking moment, because before that nobody in Estonia didn`t choose an agency outside the country. How`s your cooperation been?

First, there was the honeymoon period, when everything was fine. When Telia started to cut budgets we did a lot of adaptations and reused old campaigns. The cooperation is very professional and nice. But the fragmentation problem is still there.

The consultants are very often perceived as the ones who cut your costs, whereas everything you get from the marketing agency is an expense. How do you reposition yourself to be perceived as a growth engine?

There is this niche called "creative consultancy", who have C-level trust,and they can charge high fees! There is some space for creative agencies if we learn how to get the C-level trust. We understand the people, not with the numbers, but on a deeper level. We need to learn how to quantify and sell that. But the game is not lost, advertising is not going anywhere.

How do you describe the Lithuanian market? Do you see hungry businesses who want to grow?

Everybody is playing safe with a couple of exceptions. Companies are not competing, they are defending their position. Only startups are competing because they have nothing to lose.

I feel that the big companies are a little bit of scared of them because they disrupt the market. Startups and the new business models, like Airbnb and Taxify are the future. They are really good clients.

What do you want to achieve with a year? What are the dreams?

We want to become more agile and effective, just as our clients did. We must show that the agencies are not slower. We need to learn how to repackage ourselves. I would also like to specialize more in certain business areas, like telecom.

If we manage to become a creative consultancy who can sell storytelling competency to the partner agencies to help to build better campaigns, I`d be happy.


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